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Month: May 2017

The WWP Begins Research into Word Vector Analysis

The WWP Begins Research into Word Vector Analysis

We are thrilled to announce that the Women Writers Project has begun work on a new project “Word Vector Analysis for TEI/XML: A user-Friendly Toolkit,” funded under a Tier 1 grant from Northeastern University, awarded to project co-PIs, professors Julia Flanders, Elizabeth Dillon, and Cody Dunne.

“Word Vector Analysis for TEI/XML” brings together two major digital humanities methodologies: text encoding and text analysis, as we aim to develop an exploratory web interface as part of the WWO Lab, which will allow users to visualize vector-space models with data from the Women Writers Online (WWO) TEI corpus and its sister corpus from the Victorian Women Writers Project (VWWP). For this collaborative project, a team of faculty, graduate students, and WWP staff will develop mechanisms to transform TEI documents for analysis with word embedding models, using the WWO/VWWP corpus as a test case. We will also publish a prototype web interface for exploring these models. The interface will enable users to input terms of interest and discover similar terms, locate analogies, and explore thematic clusters of terms. The WWP is especially suited to this type of text analysis because of our collection of TEI-encoded documents that are information-rich and relatively free from digitization errors. We will thus be able to create text-analysis-friendly data from TEI documents without losing the significant informational content of the markup.

Our prototype will integrate the word2vec text analysis tool using skip-gram negative sampling, as well as other experimental word vector model training methods, into an information pipeline that takes in TEI/XML data, performs a variety of preliminary processing steps taking advantage of information in the markup, passes the resulting text file on for analysis, and then sends the results to an appropriate visualization tool. The user interface will enable users to make selections based on information in the markup (e.g., to analyze texts within a certain time period or of a certain genre, or to focus on specific textual components such as background narration or direct speech), and to choose the visualization options for the output. The tool set will take advantage of TEI markup to improve tokenization in text analysis (for example, encoding with <orgName> removes any ambiguity about whether the string “Massachusetts Historical Society” refers to a single organization) and to enable comparison within corpora based on the semantic features represented by the markup. The prototype will initially focus on word vector analysis, but other text analysis routines such as topic modeling could be included as options in the pipeline as well.

As we move forward in our research, we will be publishing use cases and sample research projects using the word2vec text analysis tool. For example, a scholar of early American literature might be interested in the ways in which “America” as a concept is represented in early women’s writing. Using our tool on the WWO/VWWP corpus, she may start by finding words that are nearest to words like “America,” “England,” “country,” and “nation.” Or, she might test out the analogy function (such as in the often cited [king] – [man] + [woman] = [queen] word2vec example), experimenting with relationships between words like “England” and “New England” or “Virginia” and “Massachusetts”.  

For further reading on word embedding models and word2vec, we’ve provided some suggested blog posts below:

Vector Space Models for the Digital Humanities” by Ben Schmidt

Pride and Prejudice and Word Embedding Distance” by Lynn Cherny

Word Vectors in the Eighteenth Century” by Ryan Heuser

Numberless Degrees of Similitude”: A Response to Ryan Heuser’s ‘Word Vectors in the Eighteenth Century, Part 1’” by Gabriel Recchia

Rhetorical Intertextualities of M. R.’s The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse

Rhetorical Intertextualities of M. R.’s The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Dr. Elizabeth Ann Mackay, University of Dayton

My project for the Women Writers Project explores an oft-cited, but rarely studied, mother’s advice book: M. R.’s The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse (1631). Compared to other seventeenth-century mother’s advice books, blessings, and legacies, such as Dorothy Leigh’s The Mothers Blessing, Elizabeth Clinton’s The Countesse of Lincolnes Nurserie, and Elizabeth Joceline’s The Mothers Legacie to her unborn Childe, M. R.’s Counsell is either ignored by critics or disparaged for what most critics identify as its derivative, formulaic writing style. M. R. is also criticized for misogynistic attitudes towards women in her written advice to a daughter, which appears to endorse and reinforce a limited and conservative feminine ideal. In studies of women’s writing or mother’s advice, it’s therefore a text usually mentioned only in passing or in a footnote.

But I’ve found that a close reading of M. R.’s Mothers Counsell and, in particular, a closer reading of its intertextual nature, reveals its unique rhetorical status as a woman’s and a mother’s text. The Mothers Counsell has always been read in the context of mother’s advice books and legacies (always, precisely because it is a mother’s advice book), but, to be sure, this text has as much in common with grammar school boys’ notebooks as well as with the male-“authored” commonplace, quotation, and miscellany books that were incredibly popular, “best-selling” texts in early modern book markets. In my study of The Mothers Counsell, I have traced nearly all of M. R.’s maxims, proverbs, and sententious sayings to other published sources, specifically to several published, popular miscellanies in the period. As I’ve found, M. R. participates in what Adam Smyth has called a “commonplace book culture.”

My work for the Women Writers Project is part of a larger book project on “maternal figures,” a study of figurative language strategies (depicted or personified as mothers) and fictional and actual mothers who gave their daughters instructions in the uses of these rhetorical devices. In this book project, I explore representations of a wide variety of these “maternal figures” and I argue that mothers were at the center of thought in early modern England, that mothers were both a shaping force for and participants within early modern rhetorical culture. M. R. is one of many mothers who teach their daughters rhetorical strategies; specifically, M. R. teaches her daughter such “maternal figures” as the notebook method, proverbs, and the gathering and framing of “sayings” (more on sayings below).

In my WWP project, I focus on the intertextual nature of M. R.’s advice book, planning to show that, like many male editors of the period, M. R. acts as a compiler of her own commonplace book, but even beyond compiling quotations, she makes these quotations her own, transforming them, whether she edits sayings to suit her own purposes, repackages the sayings under new titles and categories, reworks and reframes them so that they become unrecognizable as others’ quotes, and ultimately, composes her own original work by “translating” quotations into her own writing. Therefore, I reassess M.R.’s The Mothers Counsell by putting it into new contexts. Doing so, I do not simply consider its links to the genres with which it has always been in conversation (mother’s advice books and maternal legacies). I also analyze it in a more substantial way, reading it as as a text uniquely positioned to show us several important aspects of early modern textuality and intertextuality.

As I plan to show, it is the very intertextual nature of M. R.’s Counsell that sets it apart from other mother’s advice books; its intertextual character also provides us with a unique example of a woman collecting, editing, and then making public her commonplace or miscellany book. My WWP project will discuss a variety of M. R.’s source materials while analyzing the range of rhetorical strategies (those “maternal figures”) that M. R. used to both draw on and work against her sources, including her deliberate choice to obscure her identity, her views on chastity, her uses of section headings, her own understanding of textuality and its relationship to women’s speech and writing, her tongue-in-cheek attitude to her sources and to the construction of women in male-authored texts, and her maternal vocabularies and allusions.

In this blog post, I’d like to share a very few examples of what I’ve discovered in my reading of The Mothers Counsell. First, a few notes about the structure and some conventions of Mothers Counsell. The advice book is divided into four sections (with four corresponding subsections), each of which is a “point” on a moral compass about which M. R. instructs her daughter (thus, the subtitle of the book, “Live Within Compasse”).

Additionally, each of the four points includes its opposite behavior in the four subsections. For example, the book begins with a discussion of “Chastitie,” which is followed by a section on “Wantonness,” what it means to turn “out of compass in chastitie”; thus, M. R. conveys to her daughter the behaviors and actions to be avoided. Each section is primarily written in prose, culminating with verses that comment back on or bring the description of the compass point to its conclusion.

A first example of M. R.’s intertextuality: in “Wantonness,” M. R. ends the section with these verses:

Such is the crueltie of women kind,
when they haue shaken off the shamefac’st hand,
with which wise nature did them strongly bind.
t’obey the hests of mans well ruling hand,
that then all rule & reason they withstand,
to purchase a licentious libertie.
But vertuous women wisely vnderstand
that they were borne to Humilitie,
vnlesse the Heauens them life to lawfull Soueraigntie.

Importantly, this is passage is one that critics such as Betty Travitsky and Elaine Beilin have recognized as a quotation; Travitsky, for instance, writes in The Paradise of Womenthat this passage is one of a few “(unacknowledged) quotations from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene” (66). (In reading Travitsky’s assessment of M.R., I was struck by a contrast with her praise for Elizabeth Grymeston, who uses the same rhetorical strategies in her mother’s advice book,Miscelanae, Meditations, Memoratives, written to a son. There, Travitsky applauds Grymeston’s style and her “ability to assimilate and even to alter quotations from many sources for her own purposes.”  M. R., on the other hand, doesn’t seem to warrant the same kind of praise (51).) Indeed, here is Spenser’s passage, from Book 5, Canto 5, stanza 25 of The Faerie Queene. Note how Spenser’s passage is mostly identical to the passage of M. R., with some minor changes in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and the like:

Such is the crueltie of womenkynd,
When they haue shaken off the shamefast band,
With which wise Nature did them strongly bynd,
T’obay the heasts of mans well ruling hand,
That then all rule and reason they withstand,
To purchase a licentious libertie.
But vertuous women wisely vnderstand,
That they were borne to base humilitie,
Vnlesse the heauens them lift to lawfull soueraintie.

Here’s another example, one of the few passages where M. R. includes a discussion of the self:

Corrupt company is more infectious than corrupt aire; therefore let women be houised in their choise; for that text of thy selfe that could neuer bee expounded; thy companion shalt as thy commentarie, lay open to the world: for it is seene by experience, that if those which are neither good nor euill accompany with those that are good, they are transformed into their vertue. If those that are neither good nor euill consort with those that are euill, they are incorporated to their vice. If the good companie with the good, both are made the better; if the euill with the euill, both the worse: for such as the companie is, such is the condition.

Strikingly, the same quote appears in an edition of Lord Burghley’s published Precepts, but, as I’ll highlight in the following passage, we can see that M. R. has made one slight edit:

Corrupt company is more infectious than corrupt aire; therefore let women be houised in their choise; for that text of thy selfe that could neuer bee expounded; thy companion shalt as thy commentarie, lay open to the world: for it is seene by experience, that if those which are neither good nor euill accompany with those that are good, they are transformed into their vertue. If those that are neither good nor euill consort with those that are euill, they are incorporated to their vice. If the good companie with the good, both are made the better; if the euill with the euill, both the worse: for according to the Proverbe, such as the companie, such is the condition.”

And I’ll include one last example from M. R.’s section on “Humilitie,” one that, I think, demonstrates the nuances of M. R.’s advice to her daughter; again, I’ll highlight subtle (or not so subtle) revisions in all three examples:

Shee that gathereth vertues without Humilitie, casteth dust against the winde, and loesth her labour.

Compare M. R.’s presentation of this line to a saying included in Nicholas Ling’s commonplace book, Politeuphuia, under the section heading, “Of Humilitie”:

Hee that gathereth vertues without humilitie, casteth dust against the winde.

The same saying also appears in another commonplace book, A Treatise of Morrall Philosophie, compiled by William Baldwin, under his section heading, “Of Humilitie and Gentlenesse”:

He that doth gather vertues together (for estimation and comelinesse) with out the vertue of humilitie, doth as he that openly beareth fine powder in a rough and boisterous winde.

What is so intriguing about this example, which is concerned with the “gather[ing of] vertues,” is that M. R. deliberately edits the saying so that such gathering is done by women, while also giving her daughter precise instructions on how to collect sayings in her own commonplace book (and while modeling this practice for her daughter). In Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England, Mary Thomas Crane argues that the gathering and framing of sayings into notebooks or commonplace books was a distinctly humanist mode for learning self-expression and virtuous behavior, was a method of self-fashioning, and was a practice crucial to understanding the nuances of early modern authorship. Crane explains that sententia—which included a wide range of rhetorical devices, like proverbs, aphorisms, maxims, apothegms, general sentences and quotations—traditionally were means of “appropriating cultural code[s] as a basis for authentic discourse,” a means of “rhetorical invention” and “self-definition,” and a means “to teach and provide political counsel” (17, 25). More importantly, as I argue in my larger project, because sententia provided persuasive guidance on how one should behave appropriately in a variety of social situations, they performed in texts as precepts (“teachers”), as examples (to be “imitated” in one’s own practice), and thus, as “maternal figures.” Indeed, as these rhetorical devices are depicted in a variety of texts, English sayings were clearly grounded in a “maternal” authority—coming from England’s “mother’s wit” and spoken in her “mother tongue.”

The three examples I’ve presented above are only a few of hundreds of examples of M. R.’s intertextuality in The Mothers Counsell. It appears that all of her “writing” is done by gathering, framing and reframing, and editing quotations—but the question of how we characterize and evaluate these practices depends on historical context. Modern concepts of originality ignore that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many people kept their own manuscript commonplace and miscellany books additionally, commonplaces and miscellanies occupied a special niche in the early modern book market. In my research, I’ve found several commonplace books M. R. appears to turn to for gathering her sayings. Some of these commonplace books include:

  • Robert Allott, Englands Parnassus: OR The choysest Flowers of our Moderne Poets, with their Poeticall comparisons.
  • William Baldwin, A Treatise of Morrall Philosophie: Wherein is Contained the worthy sayings of Philosophers, Emperours, Kings and Orators.
  • John Bodenham, Bel-vedere or The Garden of the Mvses.
  • Nicholas Ling, Wits Commonwealth. Newly Corrected and amended.

M. R. also appears to collect sayings from other texts, not commonplace books but instead instructive, religious, or imaginary genres, including:

  • William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Certaine preceptes or directions, for the well ordering and carriage of a mans life.
  • Nathan Field, Amends for Ladies. A Comedie.
  • Johann Gerhard, Gerards meditations writing originally in the Latine tongue by John Gerard Doctour in Divinitie, and superintendant of Heidelberg.
  • Robert Greene, Greenes Vision: Written at the instant of his death. Conteyning a penitent passion for the folly of his Pen.
  • John Hooper, A declaration of the ten holy commaundementes of allmygthye God.
  • John Lyly, Euphues and his England.
  • Thomas Overbury, His Wife, With New Elegies upon his (now knowne) vntimely death.

But perhaps you’re wondering: “Ok, this is all very interesting, but how did you discover all of this?” I’ll admit that my discoveries began with a rather spotty and shoddy research process, where I wanted to contextualize characterizations of M.R.’s practices as unoriginal or formualic. There was something about that notion that just didn’t sit well with me. At the same time, I was spending a lot of time reading about early modern grammar school and domestic learning processes and knew that commonplace book or notebook methods were encouraged for learning in both the schoolhouse and the private home. And I also knew that it while it was the convention in these books to “collect” quotations or sayings, it was not usually a practice to attribute those sayings to their original authors. Adam Smyth, of course, has made this argument about authorship and verse miscellanies in his monograph, Profit & Delight—particularly the notion that these quotation collections suggest that original authorship a) doesn’t matter all that much and b) would have likely been recognized by the early modern audience.

Frontispiece of The Faerie Queene. Wikimedia Commons.

For me, Smyth’s arguments became crucial to the ways I thought about The Mothers Counsell. I thought: if M. R. is quoting Spenser, Drayton, and Shakespeare in the few moments other critics have recognized, could it be that she’s collecting sayings from other writers? What if all of the “points” in her “compass” (her aphoristic pieces of advice to her daughter) are sayings originating elsewhere? With these questions, I began the process of Googling quotations (which I recognize is not a most reliable or academic method) and started making connections between the quotations in M. R.’s book and in other early modern commonplace and miscellany books published around the same time as The Mothers Counsell. I found titles of early modern commonplace books through Googling quotations, then began to search those titles in Early English Books Online (EEBO), and started reading those commonplace books more carefully. Also, very recently, through the University of Michigan libraries, I’ve discovered the Text Creation Partnership, which “creates standardized, accurate XML/SGML encoded electronic text editions of early print books” and is in the midst of transcribing texts “from the millions of page images in ProQuest’s Early English Books Online, Gale Cengage’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online, and Readex’s Evans Early American Imprints.” TCP has made it possible for me to use a “find” search with keywords to locate possible texts, quotations, and sayings, expediting the process of locating M. R.’s sources, while also searching in original sources, rather than Googling.

One of the primary problems with my research and my study of this mother’s advice book is that I’m not always sure I’ve tracked down the “correct” source. Many of these texts exist in several editions with multiple printings, some of which are edited themselves throughout the years. For example, Baldwin’s Treatise of Morall Philosophie appears in 22 editions on EEBO and many of the subsequent seventeenth-century printings expanded the original. Similarly, Lord Burghley’s Certain Precepts is listed on EEBO in five printings, but was also published under several different titles, and was expanded beginning in 1617. Ling’s (and/or Bodenham’s) Politeuphuia (a text that is attributed at various times to each of these authors) exists in 24 printings; there is also its companion, Palladis tamia, which doesn’t appear to be as popular with only three reprintings. Thus, when it comes to edition choice, I am trying to use my best educated guess. Given publication dates for Englands Parnassus (1600), Bel-vedere (1600, 1610), Burghley’s Certain Precepts (1611-1637), Greenes Vision (1592), and Amends for Ladies (1618, 1639), and how they correspond with M. R.’s publication date (1630 or 1631), my best guess is that M. R. selected editions for her sources that were published primarily between the years 1615-1620, with only a few exceptions (Greenes Vision, for example).

One last problem is that out of about 250 quotations, I cannot find sources for or locate quotations that seem to inspire the writing of eight sayings. Here they are (in order of appearance). Where I think necessary, I’ve included the surrounding quotations that I have been able to locate, highlighting the one or two lines that I have not:

The eyes are the instruments of lust, therefore make a couenant with them, that they betray not thy heart to vanitie.

From idle wit there springs a brain-sick will,
Which wise men lust, which foolish make a god;
This is the shape of vertue reigneth still,
But ‘tis the onely vice, one worst and odde.
Will puts in practice what the wit deuiseth;
Will euer acts, and wit contemplates still,
And as from wit the power of wisedome riseth,
All other vertues daughters are of will.

Beautie in this world is the delight of an houre, and the sorrow of many dayes; but in the world to come, eternall rest and long ioy.

Shee that is an enemy to beautie is a foe to nature, and shee that doats on beautie is a high traytor to nature.

Beauties that should be concealed, grossly discouered, are faire signes hung out to entice to an unhospitable June.

A sparke of beautie burnes a world of creatures,
When it is of sophisticated features.

Neuer wish impossible wishes, for it expresseth but a wanton passion, or a most greedy couetousnesse, both grounded on folly.

As a woman without humilitie is vnpleasant, so humilitie without seueritie draweth neare to prostitution.

Pride did first spring in men from too much abundance of wealth, in women from too much trust in beautie, and the flattery of men.

I’m not sure what to make of this. Did I hit a wall with my search process? (Entirely possible.) Are these quotations in sources that are no longer extant? (Also possible.) Are these quotations in sources that are in libraries that I haven’t had the opportunity (or financial means to) visit? (Absolutely possible.) And if so, how to find these proverbial quotes in all of those haystacks? Or, on the other hand, could these quotes, usually added as clauses to complete sentences, be M. R.’s own additions, her own original writing? If any of you, the good, smart people reading this blog have any ideas here, I’d be most grateful for your help in locating the sources of quotations, or for any suggestions about improving my slapdash process.

In both my WWP exhibit on M. R.’s intertextuality and in my book project on “maternal figures,” I’m ultimately arguing that, when read beyond its surface, M. R.’s Mothers Counsell is a mother’s advice book or a mother’s legacy that is anything but conventional, expected, or conservative. I think such a re-reading of M. R.’s book can encourage us to reassess the mother’s advice, blessing or legacy, especially where this genre’s notions of inheritance are concerned. Since mother’s advice traditionally is read as mothers attempting to write last wills and testaments or to “bequeath” their advice to daughters, as I argue, M. R.’s advice book alerts us to the idea that mothers are also attempting to pass on a rhetorical tradition, a rhetorical inheritance.

Frontispiece of Englands Parnassus. Wikimedia Commons.

In many texts, including rhetorical treatises and style handbooks, figurative language devices are imagined as material objects—described as rhetorical “flowers,” “jewels” or “ornaments,” as well as in metaphors of treasures, clothing, apparel, accessories, foodstuffs, and cosmetics. M. R.’s intertextual advice book demonstrates the theory that sayings are material objects, goods that can be gathered together, gifted and bequeathed to a daughter, goods that have use value. And M. R. models for her daughter how to use these “riches” to create one’s own “persuasive discourse,” a discourse that also can be given to others. Smyth indicates that this is a particular feature of the early modern commonplace book, that “it was often owned by (and sometimes augmented by) several generations of owners (“Commonplace Book Culture” 93).  He also notes that when “a woman inherit[s] a family commonplace book,” she then can “exert[] ownership over the text, making it her own.”

I’m arguing that mothers take this a step further, creating their own texts that can be read, used and re-used, added to, amended, etc. Mothers like M. R. piece together not just advice, but rhetorical devices, advice and figures they understand daughters as needing.  Engaging with an early modern commonplace book culture, ultimately, M. R. crafts a text that is meant to teach her daughter (and other women) lessons in how to style one’s public written arguments and how women might offer their public (and perhaps political) counsel.


Beilin, Elaine V.  Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Crane, Mary Thomas. Framing Authority:  Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

R., M.  The Mothers Counsell, or Live Within Compasse.  London: John Wright, 1631.

Smyth, Adam. “Commonplace Book Culture: A List of Sixteen Traits.”  Women and Writing c. 1340-c. 1650: The Domestication of Print Culture.  Eds. Anne Lawrence-Mathers and Phillipa Hardman. York: York Medieval Press, 2010.

_____.  “Profit & Delight”: Printed Miscellanies in England, 1640-1682.  Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004.

Text Creation Partnership.  Text Creation Partnership, 2009. Accessed Jul. 2016.

Travitsky, Betty.  The Paradise of Women: Writings by Englishwomen of the Renaissance. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981.

Food History and Auto-Intertextuality in Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley

Food History and Auto-Intertextuality in Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Dr. Cassie Childs, University of South Florida

My project for Intertextual Networks involves creating a digital exhibit that examines the intertextuality between Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley (1696), food history, archival manuscripts, and Manley’s later writing, both fiction and non-fiction. The project will develop in two stages: the first phase will engage with material history by annotating the primary text with archival images from eighteenth-century recipe books and botanical guides; the second will examine the textual history of Manley’s letters, charting the influence of her letters on her later social and political fictions.

From her trip to Exeter in 1694, Manley composed a series of eight letters to “J.H.,” initially published without her permission as Letters by Mrs Manley, which were, by her request, reissued by Edmund Curll after her death in 1725 as A Stage-Coach Journey to Exeter. Describing the Humours on the Road, with the Characters and Adventures of the Company. This understudied text is ripe for an exploration of layered intertextuality and potentially valuable for exploring new forms of TEI markup. My project will act as a test case for the kinds of text encoding available when intertextual readings cross genres and disciplines.

The first phase of this project builds on research questions I have already addressed in my book chapter on Manley’s letters: what is the interplay between food history and women-authored travel writing? what is the relationship between food and place? I propose a digital exhibit that combines archival images and botanical illustrations that will highlight food references made by Manley and that connect to eighteenth-century recipe books. A research moment at the New York Public Library (NYPL) best illustrates the ways manuscripts will help to build the exhibit.

In Letter IV Manley shares a basin of heart cherries with a fellow woman traveler, prompting a moment of commensality. In an initial reading of this moment I wondered about the significance of the cherries themselves: were cherries in season? did they connate a sense of hospitality? were they a popular fruit? Digging in the archives at the NYPL, I hoped to unearth answers to these questions that would inform and change the scope of my project. In the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I perused volumes of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century archival materials primarily from the NYPL’s Whitney Cookery Collection, whose holdings contain fifteen English manuscripts related to cookery and medicinal recipes and remedies. The aim had been to find a recipe that included cherries or a description of their popularity in the eighteenth century, but the discovery was much more illuminating.

From Mary Davies (1684) and Lady Anne Morton’s recipes “to dry Cheries,” “to preserve Cheries,” and “Marmollatt off Cheries,” to Elizabeth Blackwell’s illustrated plates on “Red Winter Cherries” (Plate 161), “Red Cherry” (Plate 449), and “The Black Cherry” (Plate 425) from A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739) to John Parkinson’s section titled “Cerafus, The Cherry tree” (570-575) in Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (reprinted from the 1629 edition. 1904.) an intersection of food history and literary women’s history emerged.

Photo taken from Mary Davis [Collection of medical and cookery recipes] 1684. Manuscript from the Whitney Cookery Collection, The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
Photo taken from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739), The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
Photo of Plate 449, “Red Cherry,” from Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal (published between 1737 and 1739), The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).

Photo taken from Mary Davis [Collection of medical and cookery recipes] 1684. Manuscript from the Whitney Cookery Collection, The New York Public Library, by Cassie Childs (November 2015).
What became visible was a material and cultural history that connected cherries to women-authored medicinal handbooks, recipes books, and botanical guides to women-authored texts—a spatial and thematic intertextual network between women, food, and archival materials. I had anticipated finding a single cherry recipe or one historical reference to note and instead I discovered these archival materials represented a banquet themselves—a representation not only of food history, but also a material representation of the way food and writer and text interconnect. The cherry, a single food item, shows up in a wide range of texts used for a variety of purposes by a wide spectrum of women, connecting eighteenth-century women in different places and resulting in a shared cultural history centered on food.

The cherry reference is only one of many food moments that appear in Manley’s letters. Other references are literal food references, such as eating mutton, and others are figurative, like a “feast for the mind.” For the digital exhibit I will author for Women Writers in Context, the reader will encounter images from manuscripts, like the above, that show images of cookery and medicinal recipes alongside the primary text. References to food will be highlighted and will be accompanied by eighteenth-century receipts and a brief food history. Eventually, I would also like to discover whether or not there are any food references that appear across genres and authors. I am inclined to think that with the many cherry recipes I unearthed that Manley may be one of many women authors that include cherries in their texts.

I hope to visually represent the ways food functions simultaneously as concrete, (intended for consumption), as a symbol (used as a literary topic and device), and as historical and cultural markers of identity. Such an exhibit may offer opportunities to better understand and criticize the nation and Manley’s own identity within the nation, but also lends itself to questions of auto-intertextuality. For instance, Manley’s Adventures of Rivella contains several scenes of herself and others at meals and references to conversations after meals. I anticipate annotating the food moments in the epistolary genre while also finding interconnections across various texts written by Manley.

The second phase of this project will allow me to explore research questions related to Manley’s own self-intertextuality. Not only are there possible intertextual patterns to other fiction and non-fiction travel narratives from the eighteenth century, but I also argue that Manley may have used her early letters as fodder for her later scandal fictions. Most of Manley’s letters include short tales told by fellow travelers; these stories interrupt her own narrative and contain possible allusions and references to her later, more popular writing. Pursuing this research may lead to interesting TEI markup questions about auto-intertextuality among multiple genres by a single author, and could offer an encoding of quotations and citations within Manley’s own oeuvre and that of secret histories and letters in general.

I have several autobiographical questions I would like to pursue. At what point in Manley’s life were her works written as Tory propaganda? How might I be able to determine something that seems like Tory propaganda in her writing? Manley’s own childhood was steeped in political discourse and I wonder how this influence might appear across texts.

I imagine I will seek connections and write annotations for names, places, food, and repeated words and phrases. For example, a name key could offer us the chance to search for the names of fictional figures (and in Manley’s case there are also historical figures and individuals) that (re)appear. In Letter II, for instance, Manley tells the story of a fop that she meets, and I am curious if this fop archetype appears (either by name or through similar characteristics) in her later work. Is the fop figure likely to appear in multiple Manley texts? I have also thought that plot lines might carry over into multiple Manley texts. I wonder if she uses similar phrases or terms to describe, say, the moment a lover is jilted. These initial curiosities, I believe, have potential and will eventually lead me to discover whether or not my hypothesis regarding Manley’s own auto-intertextuality is correct.

With the first phase of this digital exhibit, I aim to demonstrate that women’s connections to food are much more complex than simply thinking of women’s bodies as fat or thin, young or old, and beautiful or ugly, and that women’s relationship to food is not singularly about feeding others or cooking in the kitchen. Rather, food and consumption shape identities, both personal and national, signify tastes, individually and culturally, and provide insights into lived experiences. Food language, food practices, and food tastes give us a way of knowing women’s own language and their voices, and it allows scholars of the eighteenth century to reconsider the landscape of women’s writing as culturally and historically relevant. The second phase, with potential for auto-intertextuality, positions Manley, already a rich part of eighteenth-century scholarship, as fuller and more interconnected than previously discussed. These interconnections I hope will reflect a shared experience of food, place, and language written on the page for our consumption, a literary and historical feast for our pleasure.